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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Ellenore being threatened with police measures


Her

young lover receives this riveting of his chains with consternation, but he does his best. He defends her in public, he fights with a man who speaks lightly of her, but this is not what she wants.

Of course I ought to have consoled her. I ought to have pressed her to my heart and said, "Let us live for each other; let us forget the misjudgments of men; let us be happy in our mutual regard and our mutual love." I tried to do so, but what can a resolution made out of duty do to revive a sentiment that is extinct? Ellenore and I each concealed something from the other. She dared not tell me her troubles, arising from a sacrifice which she knew I had not asked of her. I had accepted that sacrifice; I dared not complain of ills which I had foreseen, and which I had not had courage enough to forestall. We were therefore silent on the very subject which occupied us both incessantly. We were prodigal of caresses, we babbled of love, but when we spoke of it we spoke for fear of speaking of something else.

Here is the full Nemesis of the sentiment that, to use Constant's own words, is "neither passion nor duty," and has the strength of neither, when it finds itself in presence of a stronger than itself. There were none of these unpleasant meetings in Sensibility proper. There sentiment met sentiment, and "exchanged itself," in Chamfort's famous phrase.

When the rate of exchange became unsatisfactory it sought some other customer--a facile and agreeable process, which was quite consistent in practice with all the sighs and flames. Adolphe is not to be quit so easily of his conquest. He is recalled by his father, and his correspondence with Ellenore is described in one of the astonishingly true passages which make the book so remarkable.

During my absence I wrote regularly to Ellenore. I was divided between the desire of not hurting her feelings and the desire of truthfully representing my own. I should have liked her to guess what I felt, but to guess it without being hurt by it. I felt a certain satisfaction when I had substituted the words "affection," "friendship," "devotion," for the word "love." Then suddenly I saw poor Ellenore sitting sad and solitary, with nothing but my letters for consolation: and at the end of two cold and artificial pages I added in a hurry a few phrases of ardour or of tenderness suited to deceive her afresh. In this way, never saying enough to satisfy her, I always said enough to mislead her, a species of double-dealing the very success of which was against my wishes and prolonged my misery.

This situation, however, does not last. Unable to bear his absence, and half puzzled, half pained by his letters, Ellenore follows him, and his father for the first time expresses displeasure at this compromising step. Ellenore being threatened with police measures, Adolphe is once more perforce thrown on her side, and elopes with her to neutral territory. Then events march quickly. Her father's Polish property, long confiscated, is restored to him and left to her. She takes Adolphe (still struggling between his obligations to her and his desire to be free) to Warsaw, rejects an offer of semi-reconciliation from the Count de P----, grows fonder and more exacting the more weary of her yoke her lover becomes; and at last, discovering his real sentiments from a correspondence of his with an artful old diplomatic friend of his father's, falls desperately ill and dies in his arms. A prologue and epilogue, which hint that Adolphe, far from taking his place in the world (from which he had thought his _liaison_ debarred him), wandered about in aimless remorse, might perhaps be cut away with advantage, though they are defensible, not merely on the old theory of political justice, but on sound critical grounds.


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